Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Advice to American Idol on Broadway Night

I was devastated last year for Sabrina Sloan, the American Idol contestant with talent who was cut out of the top 12 in lieu of Hayley Scarnato. I had seen Sloan on tour in Hairspray and even briefly met her at a promotional appearance for the show. She was a dynamite Dynamite, and she would have been a serious contender on American Idol had she made it into the final twelve.

A number of American Idol alumni have taken their talent to Broadway but not without first taking Broadway talent to American Idol. Unfortunately, Broadway night, when they have it, tends to be one of the worst nights of the series. First of all, the dynamic nature of the songs is hacked to shreds for the sake of time. Secondly, and most importantly, you have voices that aren’t suited to the material. The contemporary pop voice isn’t going to do justice to “Mack the Knife” or “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” and those songs don’t do justice to the pop voice.

As all we Broadway folk know, there are a ton of great contemporary Broadway songs out there that are perfectly suited to the typical American Idol voice, but because Broadway is no longer part of the mainstream culture, no one out west knows these songs to recommend to the finalists.

That’s where I come in. Below is a list of some of the best Broadway choices should this season of American Idol have Broadway theme night. What makes for great songs on American Idol are songs that have a pop flavoring, have melodies and lyrics that are easily communicated, that can be truncated, and aren’t originally duets. Great theatre songs by the likes of Stephen Sondheim or Michael John LaChiusa won’t translate well, overall (LaChiusa’s “People Like Us” is a great song with the potential for wide appeal, but it’s a duet).

So, without further ado, my American Idol recommendation list:

“And I’m Telling You” from Dreamgirls
This has now been done on American Idol, at least twice last year alone. We all know what a powerhouse song it is if the finalist has the chops for it. The key is to make it unique, not copying Jennifer Holliday or Jennifer Hudson.

“I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables
One of the great pop opera solos from its 1980s heyday, “I Dreamed a Dream” is still a powerful, heartfelt song after all these years. This genre of musical struggles today, but “I Dreamed a Dream” will keep playing forever. You don’t necessarily need a powerful voice, just one with much depth and emotion.

“On My Own” from Les Miserables
“On My Own” is another song with a simple idea that is communicated through powerful music and allows a strong voice to shine. Like “I Dreamed a Dream,” it is tried and true, with a strong base of people who will know it and will welcome hearing it again.

“This Is the Moment” from Jekyll and Hyde
This song works better for me in the show than out of it, but it is a recognizable song with a great arc and some pop meat for a singer to bite into. Frank Wildhorn, whose honorable goal it has been to bring contemporary music to Broadway, has written many songs that would provide many great American Idol moments.

“Someone Like You” from Jekyll and Hyde
A powerful song easily relatable outside of the show, “Someone Like You” would provide a singer like Jordin Sparks or Katharine McPhee something to rip into. Linda Eder is pretty much impossible to match, but unlike Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, or Celine Dion, her material isn’t known by most of the country, so a singer can tackle her stuff without fear of comparison.

“A New Life” from Jekyll and Hyde
Here is another gem from Jekyll and Hyde with room for that glorious belt.

“What You Own” from Rent
One of the best-known rock scores is Jonathan Larson’s Rent, but the songs are either duets or wouldn’t translate well outside of the show. “One Song Glory” is amazing, for example, but I just don’t think it would work well on American Idol. “What You Own” is a duet, but I think it could translate well to a solo (and it’d have to be truncated anyway, so the character-specific parts could be jettisoned). It has a catchy melody, and it has a message that many people can relate to.

“Only Love” from The Scarlet Pimpernel
Another Frank Wildhorn gem (yes, I said gem), it allows for a theatrical presentation (such as by the incomparable Christine Andreas) or a more pop rendition (such as by the incomparable Linda Eder). The theme is simple, taking a chance on love, which will be easily identifiable with general audiences.

“I’ll Forget You” from The Scarlet Pimpernel
We’re not done with Frank Wildhorn yet, this time with a song from the revised version of The Scarlet Pimpernel. I love this song. It has the complexity of a theatre song—there’s subtext to the lyrics that is different from what the character is saying—with the instant appeal that a song on American Idol needs to have to connect with an audience. This is one of those songs I often find myself randomly singing out of nowhere.

“Back to Before” from Ragtime
I love the to-the-rafters songs from this era (can you tell), and while “Back to Before” is less pop-friendly than the Wildhorn stuff, it’s a very powerful song, allowing for a depth of emotion and that great belt.

“Your Daddy’s Son” from Ragtime
Again, this one is going to be a little less audience-friendly, but it is nevertheless a very powerful and moving song. In a show that can often be filled with the belters of the Christina Aguilera variety, “Your Daddy’s Son” could be a way of differentiating talent.

“Tell My Father” from The Civil War
A touching song about a soldier on his deathbed, “Tell My Father” is a beautiful and moving song. We’re in a time of war, and it could really connect with audiences.

“Freedom’s Child” from The Civil War
Here’s another rousing song from the Frank Wildhorn songbook. Given a country or rock twist (or both), it would be a spectacular showcase for someone like Bo Bice or Chris Daughtry on a night that otherwise wouldn’t allow them to shine.

“Fortune Favors the Brave” from Aida
There are few rock voices that compare with Adam Pascal’s, and he really rocked out to this song. It’s a great chance for a rock voice to really shine in a theatre song.

“My Strongest Suit” from Aida
No one will ever top Sherie Rene Scott’s rendition on the CD, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be great to see people try. What a fun song with a chance for someone with a great voice.

“I Know Where I’ve Been” from Hairspray
Since it is from the movie that most people know this song, this would actually be a great showcase for a contemporary voice. Queen Latifah does a fine job in the movie, but it’s not a voice that many other singers, like LaKisha Jones, couldn’t easily outshine. When you top the well-known version, it’s always bonus points from the judges.

“Defying Gravity” from Wicked
Do I need to say anything else? A powerful song written for a powerful pop voice with a meaning that extends beyond the show, “Defying Gravity” is also now getting to be one of the more recognizable Broadway songs from the past decade.

“Once Upon a Time” from Brooklyn
Diana DeGarmo did a beautiful job belting out this one on the road company after Eden Espinoza brought it to life on Broadway. A gem in a middling score, “Once Upon a Time” has a memorable melody with room for a woman with a big voice to come in and knock it out of the park. When Diana DeGarmo sang it as part of a promotional appearance before the show opened, it was a powerful. It’s a song that often runs through my head, and I sometimes pop in the CD just to hear it alone.

“Here I Am” from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
It’s very character specific, so some of it may not always make sense to the audience at home, but it’s a catchy and fun song with the capability of showcasing a great voice (like Sherie Rene Scott’s, for example). When that great voice rises up for those final lines, it’s awesome.

“I’m Here” from The Color Purple
Already known from Fantasia’s performance last season, “I’m Here” is another great chance for a diva of any color to rip in and make it her own. The message, first of all, is so powerful, one many people can relate to. Secondly, it’s a great song with a strong melody that allows the singer to not only belt but bring out emotion. If the finalist can relate to it and sheds a few tears at the end, all the better for getting votes.

the Broadway Mouth
January 15, 2008


The Director said...

I also like "Til You Came Into my Life" from the Jekyll and Hyde concept album.

You think they could get away with stuff from Avenue Q? "You're A Little Bit Racist" or "If you Were Gay" or... "I'm Not Wearing Underwear Today"?

Anonymous said...

Those are all good ideas for songs. I love "Back To Before," but who could match Marin Mazzie? She was amazing singing that song. But just singing it at all (or any of the other songs) would be worth the watch. Thanks for the suggestions!

ABSteel said...

These are great suggestions, but AI has to buy the rights to perform, which means money. The producers are going to go for the cheaper songs before they let anyone belt out "Defying Gravity" or "On My Own".

Anonymous said...

One problem with your list is "And I Am Telling You..."

Every single idol who has performed it on air, is cut within two weeks. The song is a MOUNTAIN, and once it's been crossed, 95% of them can not find a song that reaches that level of wow...and in a show where you start at a 3 and want to work to a Wow factor of 10 by the end, if it's placed too early (before 8 or 9) you're sunk.

Broadway Blog said...

I don't think anyone could get away with AVENUE Q on AM IDOL, but I'd LOVE to see them try.

LaKisha Jones did a mean "And I'm Telling You . . ." last year. It was a little too Jennifer Holliday (ripped off, that is), but the judges proclaimed it better than Jennifer Hudson, though I diagree with that.

Anonymous said...

You have to take into consideration the style of these songs. Paula, Randy and Simon are looking for a POP song.

None of these songs are really pop songs.

Anonymous said...

Just saw on you tube Clay aiken belted out "this is the moment" from Jekyl and Hyde when he was in High school and brought the house down... he looked funny (still does) but I thought it funny you mentioned that one.